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Bible Commentaries

A.W. Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews

John 16

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-11

Christ Vindicated by the Spirit

John 16:1-11

The following is an Analysis of the passage which is to be before us:—

1. Reason why Christ warned His disciples, verse 1.

2. Details of what they would suffer, verse 2.

3. Cause of the world's hostility, verse 3.

4. Christ's tender solicitude, verse 4.

5. The disciple's self-occupation, verses 5 , 6.

6. The promise of the Spirit, verse 7.

7. The Spirit vindicating Christ, verses 8 , 11.

The chapter division between John 15,16 is scarcely a happy one, though perhaps it is not an easy matter to indicate a better: John 16:12 would probably have been a more suitable point for the break, for verse 12obviously begins a new sub-section. In the passage which is to be before us we find the Lord continuing the subject which had engaged Him at the close of chapter 15. There He had been speaking of the hatred of the world—against the Father, against Himself, and against His disciples. Then He had assured them that He would send the Holy Spirit to conduct His cause. The character in which Christ mentioned the Third Person of the Godhead—"the Comforter"—should have quieted the fears and sorrows of the apostles. Now Christ returns to the world's hatred, entering more into detail. Previously, He had spoken in general terms of the world's enmity; now He proceeds to speak more particularly, sketching as He does the future fortunes of Christianity, describing the first chapter of its history.

Most faithfully did the Savior proceed to warn His disciples of the treatment which would be meted out to them by their enemies. Strikingly has Mr. John Brown commented upon our Lord's conduct on this occasion. "The founders of false religions have always endeavored to make it appear to be the present interest of those whom they addressed to acquiesce in their pretentions and submit to their guidance. To his countrymen the Arabian impostor held out the lure of present sensual indulgence; and when he at their head, made war in support of his imposture, the terms proffered to the conquered were proselytism, with a full share in the advantages of their victors, or continued unbelief with slavery or death. It has indeed been the policy of all deceivers, of whatever kind, to conceal from the dupes of their artifice, whatever might prejudice against their schemes, and skillfully to work on their hopes and fears by placing in a prominent point of view all the advantages which might result from them embracing their schemes, and all the disadvantages which might result from their rejecting them. An exaggerated view is given both of the probabilities of success, and of the value of the benefits to be secured by it, while great care is taken to throw into the shade the privations that must be submitted to, the labor that must be sustained, the sacrifices that must be made, the sufferings that must be endured, and the ruin that may be incurred, in joining in the proposed enterprise.

"How different the conduct of Jesus Christ! He had no doubt promised His followers a happiness, ample and varied as their capacities of enjoyment, and as enduring as their immortal souls; but He distinctly intimated that this happiness was spiritual in its nature, and to be fully enjoyed only in a future world! He assured them that, following Him, they should all become inheritors of a kingdom; but He with equal plainness stated that that kingdom was not of this world, and that he who would enter into it must ‘forsake all,' and ‘take up his cross.' Himself poor and despised, ‘a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief.' He plainly intimated that His followers must be ‘in the world, as He was in the world.'"

The disciples of Christ were to be hated by the world! But it is highly important that we do not form too narrow a view of what is meant by "the world." Satan has tried hard to obliterate the line which separates between those who are "of the world" and those who are "not of the world." And to a large extent he has succeeded. The professing "Church" has boasted that it would convert the world. To accomplish this aim, it has sought to popularize "religion." Innumerable devices have been employed—many of which even a sense of propriety should have suppressed—to attract the ungodly. The result has been the world has converted the "professing Church." But notwithstanding this it still remains true that "the world" hates the true followers of the Lamb. And nowhere is this more plainly evident than in those who belong to what we may term the religious world. This will come before us in the course of our exposition.

The closing verses of our present portion announce the relationship of the Holy Spirit to "the world" and it is this which distinguishes the first division of John 16 from the closing section of John 15. In the concluding verses of John 15 the Lord had spoken of the world's hatred, and this still engages Him in the first few verses of chapter 16. But in verse 7 He refers once more to the Holy Spirit, and in verses John 8:11 presents Him as His Vindicator. It is this which has guided us in selecting the title of our present chapter: its suitability must be determined by the interpretation which follows.

"These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended" ( John 16:1). Before the Lord describes in detail the forms in which the world's hostility would be manifested, He paused to acquaint the disciples with His reasons for announcing these things. First, it was in order that they should not be "offended" or "stumbled" or "scandalized" as the word means. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Christ would prepare His people beforehand by telling them plainly what they might expect. Instead of contending among themselves which should be the greatest, He bids them prepare to drink of the cup He drank of and to be baptised with the baptism wherewith He was to be baptised. It was not that He would discourage them, far from it; He would fortify them against what lay ahead. And bow this evidenced the tender concern of their Master. How it demonstrates once more that He "loved them unto the end"! And how gracious of the Lord to thus warn us! Should we not often have stumbled had He not told us beforehand what to expect?

"These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended." That there was need for this warning is very evident. Already the question had been asked, "Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?" ( Matthew 19:27). Moreover, that very night all would be "offended" because of Him: "Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night; for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad" ( Matthew 26:31). But, it may be asked, Why should Christ here forewarn the disciples when He knew positively that they would be offended? Ah! why tell Peter to "watch and pray lest he enter into temptation" ( Mark 14:38), when the Lord had already foretold that he would deny Him thrice! Why command that the Gospel should be preached to every creature when He foreknows that the great majority gill not believe it! The answer to each of these questions is: to enforce human responsibility.

"They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service" ( John 16:2). Out of the catalogue of sufferings to which the disciples should be subjected, the Lord selects for mention two samples of all the rest: an extreme torture of the mind and the final infliction upon the body. It is indeed solemn to observe that this persecution of Christ's people comes from the religious world. The first fulfillment of this prophecy was from the Jews, who professed to be the people of God. But Christ indentifies them with the world. Their sharing in and display of its spirit showed plainly where they belonged. And the same is true to-day. Where profession is not real, even those who bear the name of Christ are part of "the world," and they are the first to persecute those who do follow Christ. When the walk of the Christian condemns that of the worldly professor, when faithfulness to his Lord prevents him from doing many things which the world does, and when obedience to the Word obliges him to do many things which the world dislikes, then enmity is at once aroused and persecution follows—persecution just as bitter and real to—day, though its forms be changed.

"To be ‘put out of the synagogue' was more than simply to be excluded from the place of public worship. It cut a man off from the privileges of his own people, and from the society of his former associates. It was a sort of moral outlawry, and the physical disabilities followed the sufferer even after death. To be under this ban was almost more than flesh and blood could bear. All men shunned him on whom such a mark was set. He was literally an outcast; in lasting disgrace and perpetual danger. Those familiar with the history of the dark ages, or who are acquainted with the effects of losing caste among the Hindoos, will be able to realize the terrors of such a system" (Mr. Geo. Brown).

Sometimes the degradation of excommunication was the prelude to death. Cases of this are recorded in the book of Acts. We find there mention made of a class called "zealots." They were a desperate and fanatical faction who thirsted for the blood of Christians. "And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink, till they had killed Paul. And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy" ( Acts 23:12 , 13). That such men were not restricted to the lower classes is evident from the case of Saul of Tarsus, who tells us that in his unregenerate days, "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them" ( Acts 26:9 , 10).

How fearfully do such things manifest the awful depravity of the human heart! It has been the same in every age: godliness has always met with hatred and hostility. "Cain, who was of the wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous" ( 1 John 3:12). He that is upright in the way is abomination to the wicked" ( Proverbs 29:27). "They hate him that rebuketh in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly" ( Amos 5:10). It is the same now. Faithfulness to Christ will stir up religious rancour. In spite of the boasted liberalism of the day, men are still intolerant, and manifest their enmity just so far as they dare.

"And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me" ( John 16:3). Here the Lord traces, once more, the world's undying ill-will to its true source: it is because they are not acquainted with the Father and the Son. Hatred and persecution of God's children are both the consequence and the proof of the spiritual ignorance of their enemies. Had the Jews really known the Father in whom they vainly boasted, they would have acknowledged the One whom He had sent unto them, and acknowledging Him, they would not have mistreated His followers. Thus it is to-day! "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. And every one that loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him" ( 1 John 5:1).

"But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them" ( John 16:4). The Lord had already given one reason ( John 16:1), why He had spoken these things to the disciples, now He gives them another: He made these revelations that their faith in Him might be increased when the events should confirm His prophecy. The fulfillment of this prediction would deepen their assurance in Him as the omniscient God, and this would encourage them to depend upon the veracity of His promises. If the evil things which He foretold came to pass, then the good things of which He had assured them must be equally dependable.

"And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you" ( John 16:4). "The Lord also tells them why He had not told them at the first. The full revelation was more than their weak hearts could bear. They would be staggered at the prospect. They must be gradually trained to this. Not all at once, but by little and little, as they were able to bear it, He unfolds the scheme of His cross, and of their duties and dangers. The Lord has milk for His babes, and meat for His strong men. And there was as yet no need for this. For He Himself was with them, and by the less could prepare for the greater. He was with them, as a nurse with her children; to lead them on from strength to strength, from one degree of grace and Christian virtue to another. But now that He was about to depart from them, and leave them, as it were, to themselves; to see how they will acquit themselves in that contest for which He has been training them all the while; it is necessary that all the more plainly and fully He should lay before them their future—at first this was not needed. ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.' And He was yet with them and could gradually unfold it to them. And there was yet time. But as time goes on, we see Him and hear Him opening page after page of the volume of His secret Providence to their opening minds; till finally, as here, He tells them plainly and fully even of the extremest trials that are coming upon them" (Mr. Geo. Brown).

"And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you." But how are we to reconcile this with such passages as Matthew 5:10 , 12; Matthew 10:21 , 28 , etc.? In addition to the solution offered above, namely, that Christ gradually unfolded these things to the apostles, we may point out: First, He had not previously said that the world would do these things unto them; that Isaiah , He had not hitherto intimated that they would be hated by all men. Second, previously He had not declared that the reason for this hatred was because of men's ignorance of the Father and the Son. Third, He had not previously predicted that such persecution would proceed from the delusion that the perpetrators would imagine that they were doing God a service!

"But now I go my way to him that sent me" ( John 16:5). There are some who would connect this first clause of the verse with the end of John 16:4 , thus: "And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you; but now I go my way to him that sent me." And then after a brief pause, the Lord asked, "And does no one of you ask whither I go; but because I have thus spoken to you, your heart is filled with sorrow." This is quite likely, and seems a natural and beautiful connection.

"And none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou?" ( John 16:5). In John 13:36 , we find Peter asking Christ, "Whither goest thou?" But this was an unintelligent forwardness, for he evidently thought that the Lord was going on an earthly journey (cf. John 7:5). In John 14:5: Thomas said, "We know not whither thou goest," but this was more by way of objection. What the Lord wanted was an intelligent, sympathetic, affectionate response to what He had been saying. But the apostles were so absorbed in grief that they looked not beyond the cloud which seemed to overshadow them. they were so occupied with the present calamity as not to think of the blessing, which would issue from it. They were depressed at the prospect of their Master's departure. Had they only asked themselves whither He was going, they would have felt glad for Him; for though it was their loss, it was certainly His gain—the joy of being with His Father, the rest of sitting down on high, the blessedness of entering again into the glory which He had before the foundation of the world. It was therefore a rebuke for their self-occupation, and how tenderly given!

"But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart" ( John 16:6). How often it is thus with us! We magnify our afflictions, and fail to dwell upon the blessings which they bear. We mourn and are in heaviness in the "cloudy and dark day," when the heavens are black with clouds and the wind brings a heavy rain, forgetting the beneficial effects upon the parched earth, which only thus can bring forth its fruits for our enjoyment. We wish it to be always spring, and consider not that without winter first, spring cannot be. It was so with the disciples. Instead of making the most of the little time left them with their Master, in asking Him more about His place and work in Heaven, they could think of nothing but His departure. What a warning is this against being swallowed up by over-much sorrow! We need to seek grace to enable us to keep it under control.

"But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart." It is blessed to learn that the disciples did not continue for long in this disconsolate mood. A very different spirit was theirs after the Savior's resurrection. Strikingly is this brought out in the concluding verses of Luke's Gospel: "And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God." Forty days of fellowship with Him after He had come forth victor of the grave, had removed their doubts, dispelled their fears, and filled their souls with joy unspeakable.

"Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you" ( John 16:7). Blessed contrast! The disciples, at the moment, had no thought for Him, but He was thinking of them and assured them that though they lost Him for a while, it would be their gain. Though they had failed to ask, their compassionate Master did not fail to answer. Ever more ready to hear than we are to pray, and want to give more than we desire; ready to make allowance for them in their present distress, and thinking always more of the sufferings of others than His own; thinking more now of those He is leaving behind, than of the agony He is going forth to meet—before they call He answers, answers what should have been their request, declaring unto them the expediency of His departure.

"Nevertheless" is adversative: I know you are saddened at the prospect of My departure, but My going is needful for you. "I tell you the truth": the personal pronoun is emphatic in the Greek—I who love you, I who am about to lay down My life for you: therefore you must believe what I am saying. I tell you the truth. Your misgivings of heart have beclouded your understandings, you misapprehend things. You think that if I remain with you, all the evils which I have mentioned would be prevented. Alas, you know not what is best for you. "It is expedient for you that I go away": It is for your profit, your advantage. It is striking to note the contrast between our Lord's use here of "expedient" from the same words on the lips of Caiaphas in John 11:50!

But what did the Lord mean? How was His going away their gain? We believe that there is a double answer to this question according as we understand Christ's declaration here to have a double reference. Notice that He did not say "It is expedient for you that I go my way to him that sent me?" as He had said in John 16:4. He simply said, "it is expedient for you that I go away." We believe that Christ designedly left it abstract. Whither was He "going" when He spake these words? Ultimately, to the Father, but before that He must go to the Cross. Was not His first reference then to His impending death? And was it not highly expedient for the disciples and for us, that the Lord Jesus should go to and through the sufferings of Calvary?

"For if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you." "The atoning death of Christ was necessary to make it consistent with the Divine government to bestow on men these spiritual blessings which are necessarily connected with the saving influence of the Holy Spirit. All such blessings from the beginning had been bestowed with a reference to that atonement; and it was fitting that these blessings, in their richest abundance, should not be bestowed till that atonement was made" (Mr. John Brown). "‘Unless I go away,' that Isaiah , unless I die, nothing will be done—you will continue as you are and everything will remain in its old state: the Jews under the law of Moses, the heathen in their blindness—all under sin and death. No scripture would then be fulfilled, and I should have come in vain" (Mr. Martin Luther).

But while we understand our Lord's first reference in His words "If I go not away" to be to His death, we would by no means limit them to this. Doubtless He also looked forward to His return to the Father. This also was expedient for His disciples. "So fond had they grown of His fleshly presence, they could not endure that He should be out of their sight. Nothing but His corporeal presence could quiet them. We know who said, If Thou hadst been here, Lord, as if absent, He had not been able to do it by His Spirit, as present by His body. And a tabernacle they would needs build Him to keep Him on earth still; and ever and anon they were still dreaming of an earthly kingdom, and of the chief seats there, as if their consummation should have been in the flesh. The corporeal presence therefore is to be removed, that the spiritual might take place" (Bishop Andrews).

In other ways, too, was it "expedient" for His disciples that the Savior should take His place on High. It is of a glorified Christ that the Spirit testifies, and for that the Savior had to "go away." Moreover, had Christ remained on earth He had been localized, His bodily presence confined to one place: whereas by the Spirit He is now omnipresent—where two or three disciples are gathered together in His name, there is He in the midst. Again; had the Lord Jesus remained on earth there had been far less room and opportunity for His people to exercise faith. Furthermore, this cannot be gainsaid: after Christ had ascended and the Spirit descended, the apostles were new men. They did far more for an absent Lord, than they ever did while He was with them in the flesh.

"But if I depart, I will send him unto you" ( John 16:7). "Every rendering of this verse ought to keep the distinction between ‘apeltho' and ‘poreutho,' which is not sufficiently done in the English Version, by ‘going away' and ‘depart.' ‘Depart' and ‘go' would be better! The first expressing merely the leaving them, the second, the going up to the Father" (Dean Alford). We believe our Lord's fine discrimination here confirms our interpretation above of the double reference in His "if I go not away," though we know of no commentator who takes this view.

"And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment" ( John 16:8). There is hardly a sentence in this Gospel which has been more generally misunderstood than the one just quoted. With rare exceptions this verse is understood to refer to the benign activities of the Holy Spirit among those who hear the Gospel. It is supposed to define His work in the conscience prior to conversion. It is regarded as a description of His gracious operations in bringing the sinner to see his need of a Savior. So firmly has this idea taken root in the minds even of the Lord's people, it is difficult to induce them to study this verse for themselves—study it in the light of what precedes, study it in the light of the amplification which follows, study the terms employed, comparing their usage in other passages. If this be done carefully and dispassionately, we feel confident that many will discover how untenable is the popular view of it.

It should be very evident that something must be wrong if this verse be interpreted so as to clash with Christ's explicit statement in John 14:17 , "The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive." What then is the character of the "reproof" that is here spoken of? Is it an evangelical conviction wrought in the heart, or is it something that is altogether external? Almost all the older commentators regarded it as the former. We, with an increasing number of later writers, believe it is the latter. One of the leading lexicons of the twentieth century gives as the meaning of elencho, "to bring in guilty; to put to shame by proving one to be wrong; to convict with a view to condemnation and judgment, but not necessarily to convince; to bring in guilty without any confession or feeling of guilt by the guilty one."

The general use of the word in the New Testament decidedly confirms this definition. It occurs in John 3:20: "For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved," which obviously means: lest the evil nature of his deeds should be so manifested by the light that excuse of extenuation would be impossible. It is found again in John 8:46 , "Which of you convinceth me of sin?": most certainly Christ did not mean, Which of you is able to convince Me, or make Me realize I have sinned. Rather, Which of you can substantiate a charge? which of you can furnish proof of sin against Me? It is rendered "reproved" in Luke 3:19 , meaning "charged," not made to feel guilty. So too in Ephesians 5:11; 2 Timothy 4:2.

Thus, in each of the above passages "elencho" refers to an objective condemnation, and not to a subjective realization of condemnation. In 1Timothy it is rendered, "rebuke". So also in Titus 1:13; Titus 2:15; Hebrews 12:5; Romans 3:19. Clearer still, if possible, is its force in James 2:9 , "But if ye have respect of persons, ye commit sin, and are convicted of the law as transgressors." Rightly did Bishop Ryle say in his comments on John 16:8 , "Inward conviction is certainly not the meaning of the word rendered ‘reprove.' It is rather refutation by proofs, convicting by unanswerable arguments as an advocate, that is meant."

The next point to be considered Isaiah , How does the Holy Spirit "reprove the world of sin," etc.? In order to answer this question aright it needs to be pointed out that our Lord was not, in these verses, describing the mission of the Holy Spirit, that Isaiah , the specific work which He would perform when He came to earth. We grant that at first sight the words "He will reprove" appear to describe His actual operations, but if everything in the passage is attentively studied, should it be seen that this is not the case. We believe our present verse is similar in its scope and character to Matthew 10:34 , "I came not to send peace, but a sword." To send a "sword" was not the nature of Christ's mission, but, because of the perversity of fallen human nature, it was the effect of His being here. Again, in Luke 12:49 He said, "I am come to send fire on the earth." It is the very presence of the Spirit on earth which, though quite unknown to them, reproves or condemns the world.

The Holy Spirit ought not to be here at all. That is a startling statement to make, yet we say it thoughtfully. From the standpoint of the world, Christ is the One who ought to be here. The Father sent Him into the world, Why, then, is He not here? The world would not have Him. The world hated Him. The world cast Him out. But Christ would not leave His own "orphans" ( John 14:18 , margin). He graciously sent the Holy Spirit to them, and, to the angels and His saints, the very presence of the Holy Spirit on earth "reproves", or brings in guilty, the world. The Holy Spirit is here to take the place (unto His disciples) of an absent Christ, and thus the guilt of the world is demonstrated.

Confirmatory of what has been pointed out, observe particularly the character in which the third person of the Godhead is here contemplated: "and he shall reprove." Who shall do so? The previous verse tells us, "The Comforter." The Greek word is "paracletos" and is rightly rendered "Advocate" in 1John . Now an "advocate" produces a "conviction" not by bringing a wrong-doer to realize or feel his crime, but by producing proofs before a court that the wrong-doer is guilty. In other words, he "reproves" objectively, not subjectively. Such is the thought of our present passage: it is the actual presence of the Holy Spirit on earth which objectively reproves, rebukes, convicts "the world."

"Here the Holy Spirit is not spoken of as dealing with individuals when He regenerates them and they believe, but as bringing conviction to the world because of sin. The Holy Ghost being here, convicts the world, i.e, what is outside where He is. Were there faith, He would be in their midst: but the world doth not believe. Hence Christ Isaiah , as everywhere in John , the standard for judging the condition of men" (Mr. W. Kelly).

But some may object, If this passage be not treating of a subjective work of evangelical conviction, why does the Holy Spirit "reprove" the world at all? what is gained if the world knows it not? But such a question proceeds on an entire mis-conception. We say again, these verses are not treating of what the Spirit does, but mention the consequence of His being here. John 9:39 gives us almost a parallel thought, "And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind." In John 3:17 we are told, "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world." How then are these two passages to be harmonized? John 3:17 give us the mission on which God sent His Son; John 9:39 names one of the consequences which resulted from His coming here. His very presence judged everything that was contrary to God. So the presence of the Spirit on earth judges the world, condemns it for Christ's being absent.

"Of sin, because they believe not on me" ( John 16:9). The presence of the Divine Paraclete on earth establishes three indictments against "the world." First "of sin." "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not" ( John 1:10). The word "knew" here means far more than to be cognizant of or to be acquainted with. It means that the world loved Him not, as the word "know" is used in John 10:4 , 5 , 14 , 15 , etc. In like manner, unbelief is far more than an error of judgment, or nonconsent of the mind: it is aversion of heart. And "the world" is unchanged. It has no more love for Christ now than it had when its princes ( 1 Corinthians 2:8) crucified Him. Hence the present tense here: "because they believe not on me."

"Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more" ( John 16:10). The personal "I" links up with John 16:7 , the last clause of which should be carefully noted: ‘7 will send him unto you." The Paraclete is here as Christ's "Advocate." Now the office and duty of an "advocate" is to vindicate his client when his cause permits of it: to do so by adducing evidence which shall silence his adversary. It is in this character that the Holy Spirit is related to "the world." He is here not to improve it, and make it a better place to live in, but to establish its consummate sin, to furnish proof of its guilt, and thus does He vindicate that blessed One whom the world cast out.

If it were the subjective work of the Holy Spirit in individual souls which was here in view, it had necessarily read, "He will convict the world... of unrighteousness," because it is destitute of it. But this is not the thought here at all. It is the Spirit's presence on earth which establishes Christ's "righteousness," and the evidence is that He has gone to the Father. Had Christ been an impostor, as the religious world insisted when they east Him out, the Father had not received Him. But the fact that the Father did exalt Him to His own right hand demonstrates that He was completely innocent of the charges laid against Him; and the proof that the Father has received Him, is the presence now of the Holy Spirit on earth, for Christ has "sent" Him from the Father. The world was unrighteous in casting Him out; the Father righteous in glorifying Him, and this is what the Spirit's presence here established.

"Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged" ( John 16:11). Had our passage been describing the work of the Spirit in producing conversion this order had been reversed, the "judgment" would have preceded the (un) "righteousness." Let this detail be carefully pondered. If the Spirit's reproof of "sin" means His bringing the sinner to realize his lost condition, and His reproving of "righteousness" means making him feel his need of Christ's righteousness, then wherein would be the need of still further convincing of "judgment"? It does not seem possible to furnish any satisfactory answer! But understanding the whole passage to treat of the objective consequences of the Spirit's presence on earth, then John 16:11 furnished a fitting conclusion.

"Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged." This is the logical climax. The world stands guilty of refusing to believe in Christ: its condemnation is attested by the righteousness of Christ, exhibited in His going to the Father: therefore nothing awaits it but judgment. The Spirit's presence here is the evidence that the Prince of this world has been judged—when He departs sentence is executed, both on the world and on Satan. "This, therefore, is the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the world. It is heaven's reversal of the world's treatment of Christ. It is the answer of the righteous Father to what the world has done to His Song of Solomon , and must not be interpreted of Gospel conviction" ("Things to Come," Vol 5 , p 142).

The following questions are to aid the student for our next lesson:—

1. What did Christ mean by "ye cannot bear them now," verse 12?

2. Have the "many things" been said, verse 12?

3. What is implied by the word "guide," verse 13? Meditate on it.

4. What is meant by "he shall not speak of himself," verse 13?

5. Where has the Spirit shown us "things to come," verse 13?

6. To whom was Christ referring in verse 16?

7. Find the verse which records the disciples "rejoicing," verse 22.


Verses 12-22

Christ glorified by the spirit

John 16:12-22

Below is an Analysis of the passage which is to be before us:—

1. The need for the Spirit's coming, verse 12.

2. The purpose of the Spirit's coming, verse 13.

3. The end accomplished by the Spirit's coming, verse 14.

4. The subordination of the Spirit, verse 15.

5. The effect of the Spirit's coming, verse 16.

6. The disciples' mystification, verses 17-19.

7. The Lord's profound prediction, verses 20-22.

That which is central in this second section of John 16 is the Holy Spirit glorifying the Lord Jesus. The more closely our present passage be studied, the more will it be found that this is the keynote of it. At first sight there does not seem to be any unity about this portion of Scripture. In John 16:12 , the Lord declares that He had yet many things to say unto the apostles, but they were unable to bear them. In John 16:13-15 , Christ made direct reference to the Holy Spirit, and what He would do for and in believers. In John 16:16 the Savior uttered an allegorical proverb (see John 16:25), which mystified the disciples, causing them to ask one another what He meant by it. While in the last three verses He made mention of their sorrow and of the joy which would follow His departure. Yet, varied as these subjects appear to be, closer study will show that they are intimately connected and logically grow out of what is found in the opening verses.

Nowhere else did our Lord give so full a word concerning the blessed person and work of the Holy Spirit. Seven things are here postulated of Him. He would act as "the Spirit of truth," He would guide believers into all truth, He would not speak of Himself, He would speak what He heard; He would show believers things to come; He would glorify Christ; He would take of the things of Christ and show them unto His people. Why, then, it may be asked, have we not entitled this chapter, The Work of the Spirit with and in Christians? Because what is here predicated of Him is in special and direct relation to Christ. It is the Holy Spirit glorifying the Lord Jesus, glorifying Him by magnifying Him before believers. Not only is this expressly affirmed in John 16:14 , but the character in which He acts throughout affords further proof.

In John 16:7 the Savior declared, "But I the truth say to you, It is profitable for you that I should go away: for if I go not away the Paraclete will not come" (Bagster's Interlinear). Now in John 16:13 , He says, "But when Hebrews , the Spirit of the truth, [the Greek has the article] has come, he will guide you into all the truth." It Isaiah , then, as the Spirit of Christ that He is here viewed. This is further emphasized in John 16:14: "He shall glorify me, for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you"—words which are repeated in John 16:15. It is therefore plain that the central and distinguishing subject of our present section is Christ glorified by the Spirit. How this applies to the dosing verses will be indicated in the course of our exposition.

"It has been repeatedly shown, and in this chapter most expressly, that the presence of the Spirit depended on the departure of Christ to heaven consequently fitting the saints for the new truths, work, character, and hopes of Christianity. The disciples were not ignorant of the promises that the Spirit should be given to inaugurate the reign of the Messiah. They knew the judgment under which the chosen people abide, ‘until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest,' so vast outwardly, no less than inwardly, the change when God pats forth His power for the Kingdom of His Son. They know that He will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh; not only the sons and daughters, the old and young of Israel enjoying a blessing far beyond all temporal favors, but the servants and the handmaidens, in short, all flesh, and not the Jews alone sharing it.

But here it is the sound heard when the great High Priest goes in into the sanctuary before Jehovah ( Exodus 28:35), and not only when He comes out for the deliverance and joy of repentant Israel in the last days. It is the Spirit given when the Lord Jesus went on high, and by Him thus gone. For this they were wholly unprepared, as indeed it is one of the most essential characteristics, of God's testimony between the rejection and the reception of the Jews; and the Spirit, when given, was to supply what the then state of the disciples could not bear" (Bible Treasury.)

Never can we be sufficiently thankful for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Though our blessed Savior is in heaven, we have a Divine Person with us on earth: a person who quickens us ( John 5:21), who indwells us ( 1 Corinthians 6:19), who loves us ( Romans 15:7), who leads us ( Romans 8:14), who gives us assurance of our sonship ( Romans 8:16), who helpeth our infirmities by making intercession for us ( Romans 8:26), and who has sealed us unto the day of redemption ( Ephesians 4:30). O that we may not grieve Him. O that we may recognize His indwelling presence and act accordingly. O that we may avail ourselves of His Divine fulness and power.

"I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now" ( John 16:12). The contents of John 16:8 to 11are parenthetical in their character, in that in John 16:1 to 7 Christ has been speaking of and to His disciples, digressing for a moment to complete what He said previously about "the world." Now He turns to consider His own again, and they in connection with the sending of the Holy Spirit to them. The Lord had yet many things to say unto those who had followed Him in the day of His rejection, things which it was deeply important for them to know, but things which they were then in no condition to receive—"ye cannot bear them now." The Greek word here for "bear" is used in a double sense in the New Testament, literally and figuratively. In John 10:31 it is rendered, "Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him": they laid hold of these stones. In Luke 10:4 it is translated, "Carry neither purse nor scrip." In Matthew 20:12 , the word is employed figuratively: "Thou hast made them equal with us which have borne the burden and heat of the day." So in Revelation 2:2: "I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil." From these references it would appear that our Lord signified that the apostles were then incapable of laying hold of or retaining what Hebrews , otherwise, would have said to them; incapable because they could not endure such revelations.

"I have yet many things to say unto you, hut ye cannot bear them now." The fact that the Eleven were in no condition to receive, unable to endure these further revelations from the Savior, demonstrated their need for the Holy Spirit to come and guide them into all the truth: suitable introduction, then, was that for this new section! Moreover, it hints strongly of the nature of the "many things" which Christ then had in mind. The apostles were prejudiced. Their hearts were set on the establishment of the Messianic kingdom. They could not tolerate the thought of Christ leaving them and returning to the Father. But the Lord Jesus could not at that time ascend the throne of David. Israel had rejected Him, and bitter would be the results for them, though most merciful would be the consequences for the Gentiles. Hence, we take it, that what our Lord here had in view was God's rejection of Israel, and His turning unto the Gentiles: the abolishing of the old covenant, and the introduction of the new: the abrogation of the ceremonial law and the bringing in of another order of priesthood: instructions for the government of His churches: prophecies concerning the future.

"I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now." This is both blessed and searching. Blessed, bemuse it shows our Lord's tender considerateness: He would not press upon them what they were in no condition to receive. Few things are more irritating than to hear without understanding. What an example for teachers now to follow! Much discernment and wisdom is needed if we are to minister the Word "in season," a word suited to the spiritual condition of our hearers, and such wisdom can only be obtained by earnest waiting upon God. But there is also a searching and solemn force to this utterance of Christ's. How many a communication would He not make to us, could we "bear" it! Paul had to have a thorn in the flesh sent him, lest he be exalted above measure through "the abundance of the revelations" which he received when he was caught up into Paradise; and in view of this, we are strongly inclined to believe that the "many things" which Christ had in mind also included revelations about Paradise and Heaven, the more so in view of John 16:5: "But now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou?" But "sorrow" had filled their hearts ( John 16:6), and this unfitted them for fuller disclosures about the Higher World.

"Howbeit when Hebrews , the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth" (). Here is the answer to a question.which must have occurred to many in meditating upon the previous verse: Did these apostles ever after bewail a lost opportunity? No; graciously did the Lord provide against that. "Howbeit," even Song of Solomon , though they could not bear these things then, when the Paraclete had come, He should guide them into all the truth! The One who would thus undertake for them is called "The Spirit of the truth." In addition to affirming that He was the Spirit of "the truth" (of Christ), this title also emphasized His suitability for such a task, His competency as the Savior's Witness. The Spirit was fully qualified because He is "the Spirit of the truth": because of His perfect knowledge of the Truth, because of His infinite love for the Truth, and because of His absolute incapacity for falsehood. Scripture speaks of "the spirit of error" ( 1 John 4:6). There is a lying spirit who controls the blind, that leads the blind, and in consequence they "both fall into the ditch."

Another thing suggested by this title of the third person of the Godhead is His relation to and connection with the written Word, which, like the incarnate Word is also called "the truth": "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth" ( John 17:17). The inspiration of the Holy Scriptures is in an unique sense the work of the Holy Spirit: "holy [separated] men of God spake moved by the Holy Spirit" ( 2 Peter 1:21). So too the interpretation of Scripture is the special work of the Spirit: "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of Prayer of Manasseh , the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a Prayer of Manasseh , save [by] the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no Prayer of Manasseh , but [by] the Spirit of God" ( 1 Corinthians 2:9-11). Before he can see, man must have both sight and light. Eyes cannot see in the darkness, and light shows nothing to the blind. So with regard to the Truth: there must be the seeing eye and illuminating light. For an interpreter we need a trustworthy guide, an infallible teacher; and he is to be found not in the "Church," the "voice of tradition," the "intuitive faculty," or in reason, but in the Spirit of God. He it is who quickens, illumines, interprets, and the only instrument which He uses is the written Word. Therefore is He called "the Spirit of the truth."

"He will guide you." There are three classes of people who need to be "guided": those who are blind, those who are too weak to walk alone, or those journeying through an unknown country. In each of these senses does the Holy Spirit guide God's elect. By nature, we are spiritually blind, and He guided us into the way of "truth" ( 2 Peter 2:2). Then as "babes" in Christ, He has to teach us how to walk ( Romans 8:14). Then as travelers through this wilderness scene, as we journey to the Heavenly Country, He points out the "narrow way which leadeth unto life." Note carefully, "He will guide you into all the truth," not "bring you into": there must be a yieldedness on our part, a corresponding obedience! If the Spirit "guides" our steps, the necessary implication is that we are walking with Him, that we are closely following His directions. This term also suggests an orderly, gradual and progressive advancing: we grow in "knowledge" as well as in "grace" ( 2 Peter 3:18).

"He will guide you into all the truth," not all truths, but "all the truth." God's truth is one connected, harmonious, indivisible whole (compare our remarks on John 7:16). "All the truth" here means all revealed truth, which is recorded in the written Word. That we have in our hands "all the truth" is clearly implied by one of the dosing verses in the last book of the Bible: "If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this Book" ( Revelation 22:18).

"For he shall not speak of himself." This does not mean, as some suppose, that He should not speak about Himself. He has told us much about Himself in every section of the Scriptures. But He would not speak from Himself, independently of the Father and the Son. As the Son came not to act independently of the Father, but to serve His Father, so the Spirit is here to serve the Son. The reference is to His administrative position.

"I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just: because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me" ( John 5:30). "I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world these things which I have heard of him" ( John 8:26). "These declarations respecting both the Son and Spirit must appear inconsistent with Their supreme Divinity, to every one who does not know the doctrine of the economical subordination of the Son and Spirit in the great plan of human redemption. Essentially the Spirit and the Son are equal to, for they are one with, the Father. Economically, the Father is greater than the Son and the Spirit, for He sends Them; the Son is greater than the Spirit, for He sends Him. Without apprehending this distinction, we cannot interpret the sacred Scriptures, nor form any clear notion of the way of salvation. The Spirit like the Song of Solomon , would be faithful to Him who appointed Him. In speaking to the apostles, in conveying information to their minds, He would communicate just what He was sent to communicate, without excess, without defect, without variation" (Mr. Brown).

"But whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak" ( John 16:13). This is parallel with John 15:15 , "For all things that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you." What a searching word is this for every teacher! "If the Spirit may not speak of Himself, if He speaks only what He has heard of the Father and the Son—O, preacher! how canst thou draw thy preaching out of thyself, out of thy head, or even thy heart?" (Gossner).

"And he will show you things to come" ( John 16:13). Mark the progressive order in these several statements concerning the work of the Spirit. In John 14:26 the Lord declared that the Spirit would recall to the apostles the past: "But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." In John 15:26 , we learn that the Spirit would testify of the present glory of Christ. But here, in John 16:13 , it is promised that He would show them things concerning the future! There are many prophecies scattered throughout the Epistles—far more than most people imagine—which the Spirit has given. But the main reference, no doubt, in this word of Christ, was to the book of the Revelation , the opening sentence of which reads, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass." It is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, for He is its chief subject and object; yet it was given by the Holy Spirit, hence the seven times repeated, "He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches!" Thus whether it be things past, things present, or things to come, Christ is the grand Center of the Spirit's testimony!

"He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you" ( John 16:14). This is the prime object before the Spirit: whether it be revealing the truth, speaking what He hears, or showing things to come, the glorification of Christ is the grand end in view. The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ ( 2 Corinthians 4:6) is both the center and capstone of Divine truth. This is the vital test for every lying spirit which would obtrude itself into the place of the Spirit: rationalism, ritualism, fanaticism, philosophy, science falsely Song of Solomon -called, all dishonor Christ, but the Spirit always magnifies Him. It is a notable fact that (so far as the writer is aware) nowhere in the Epistles has the Holy Spirit told us anything about the Father which had not previously been revealed in and by the Lord Jesus; but He has told us many things about the Song of Solomon , which Jesus uttered not in the days of His humiliation.

"He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you." The blessed work of the Spirit in revealing to believers the precious things of God is strikingly brought out in 1Corinthians 2: "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him" ( John 2:9). This is a reference to Isaiah 64 , and most Christians when quoting it stop at this point, but the very next verse goes on to say, "But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God."

"All things that the Father hath are mine" ( John 16:15). Very blessed is this: the Lord Jesus would not speak of His own glory apart from that of the Father. It is very similar to His words in John 17:10: "And all mine are thine, and thine are mine." "Thus there is opened for us a glimpse into the living blessed bond of love in receiving and giving in the eternal ground of the triune essence of the Godhead. The Father hath from eternity given to the Son to have life and all things in Himself, yet always He is the Son who revealeth the Father, only as the Fatherhood remains with the Father. But all things the Son bringeth and giveth to the Father again, honoreth and glorifieth Him in His being glorified in His people. And this through the Spirit, who with equal rights in this unity taketh from the sole fulness of the Father and the Song of Solomon , all that He livingly offers in His announcement" (Stier). "Take of mine" should be "receive of mine" as in the previous verse, otherwise the force of "therefore" here would be lost—in the Greek the word is the same in both verses.

"A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father" ( John 16:16). In the previous verses Christ had touched upon lofty things, now He comes down to the level of His apostles' needs. He condescends to stoop to their weakness, by addressing Himself to their anguished hearts. From the awful heights of the three persons of the Godhead, He descends to the sorrows and joys of His disciples. "A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me." But what did the Savior mean? This cryptic utterance of His sorely puzzled those to whom it was first addressed, as is clear from the verses which follow. Christ Himself termed it a proverbial form of speech ( John 16:25), and this must be kept in mind as we seek its interpretation. Before inquiring into the meaning of our Lord's words here, let us first ask as to His purpose in thus speaking so enigmatically.

The Lord had previously said to the disciples, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say unto you" ( John 13:31 , 33). But it is plain that they understood Him not: "Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou?" ( John 13:36). He had said, "I go to prepare a place for you... and whither I go ye know, and the way ye know" ( John 14:2 , 4). But Thomas had responded, "Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" ( John 14:5). He had said, "Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more." ( John 14:19). But they were unresponsive: "Now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou?" ( John 16:4). Now the Lord repeats in parabolic form what He had previously announced, in order to arouse them from their stupor of sorrow and to make a deeper impression upon their minds. That His end was gained is evident from the next verse. But we believe that He had a still deeper reason: He was also supplying them with material for comfort in future days of trial. Later, when they recalled these words, they would recognize that the first part of them had received fulfillment—a "little while" after He had spoken and they saw Him not; and this would cheer them with the sure hope that in another "little while" they would see Him again.

"A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me." In less than two hours, most likely, He was arrested in the Garden, and there the apostles lost sight of their Master—even Peter and John saw Him but for a very little while longer. But He not only disappeared from their bodily vision, but spiritually too they lost sight of Him. Their faith was eclipsed. The words of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus no doubt expressed the common sentiment among His followers at that time: "But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel" ( Luke 24:21). The fact that they believed not ( Mark 16:11 , 13) when they first heard of His resurrection, revealed their state of heart. They were in the darkness of doubt, and therefore could not see Christ with the eye of faith. But their seeing Him not, physically and spiritually, was of short continuance. After "a little while"—only three days—He reappeared to them, and then He disappeared again for another "little while" from their bodily vision, though never more would they spiritually lose sight of their Lord and their God.

Now while the above is probably the primary reference in our Lord's words, we have no doubt but that they contain a much deeper meaning, and an application to the whole company of Christians. "There Isaiah , as for Christ Himself, the breaking through death into life, so for the disciples a deeply penetrating, fundamental change from sorrow to joy. By no means merely their sorrow at His death, and their joy on His living again, after the analogy of the sorrow and joy of the children of men in their changing experience; but as the mediating expression of an essential internal process which the Holy Spirit completed in their case, but which is still going on to the end of all. Thus as the way of the disciples through sorrow to joy between the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord was already for them something preparatory and typical, it becomes to us a type of the way which all His future disciples have also to pass through that godly sorrow which distinguishes them fully from the world into the joy of faith and life in Christ Jesus" (Stier).

"A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again a little while, and ye shall see me." We believe that it is misleading to place a comma after the word "again," because there are two distinct periods here in view, two "little while's": "a little while and ye shall not see me" referred, first, to the interval between His death and resurrection; "and again a little while and ye shall see me," which first found its fulfillment after His resurrection, but in its deeper meaning signifies ye shall see Me in a more intimate and spiritual sense. Only ten days after His ascension, by the aid of the Spirit, they saw Him in a new, a deeper, a fuller way than ever before. But there is still a further meaning, with a wider application: "And again a little while": compare with this Hebrews 10:37: "For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry"! After this present interval of Christ's session at God's right hand, believers will "see him as he is" and be forever with Him.

"Because I go to the Father." This is assigned as the reason why the disciples should "see" Him after a "little while." It must be remembered that He was going to the Father in a special character; namely, as the One who had gloriously finished the work which had been given Him to do. He was therefore going to the Father as One entitled to a rich reward. This reward would be bestowed upon Him personally, but also upon the people whom He had purchased for Himself. Hence, His going to the Father thus guaranteed the sending of the Holy Spirit to that people ( Acts 2:33) and it was by the Spirit they were enabled to "see" Him ( Hebrews 2:9). Thus it was His glorification which afforded the means for Him to now reveal Himself unto us spiritually. Moreover, because He has gone to the Father in this character, He will yet come again and receive us unto Himself ( John 14:23) when we shall see Him, no longer through a glass darkly. His going to the Father thus manifested His title and fitness to introduce us to the Father's House!

"Then said some of his disciples among themselves, What is this that he saith unto us, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father?" ( John 16:17). The Lord's words sounded strangely in the ears of the disciples, and some of them began to discuss the seeming paradox. That they should see Him, and that they should not see Him!—it sounded like a contradiction in terms. And even His expression of going to the Father was by no means plain to them. They thought that the Messiah would remain on the earth ( John 12:34). There was no place in their theology for His leaving them and returning to the Father. And yet there ought to have been: see Psalm 68:18; Psalm 110:1. They erred through not knowing the Scriptures; hence their bewilderment here. How forcibly this illustrates the fact that the difficulties we find in the words of Scripture are self-created—due to our preconceptions and prejudices.

"They said therefore, What is this that he saith, A little while? We cannot tell what he saith" ( John 16:18). This refers, apparently, to the answer which others among the Eleven made to those of their number (mentioned in the previous verse) who were quietly discussing what the Lord had just said. The first group were completely bewildered; the second puzzled mainly by the "little while." They "desired" to ask Christ, as is clear from John 16:19; yet they refrained from doing so. And how slow, oftentimes, are we to seek for light! "Ye have not, because ye ask not" ( James 4:2)! God has designedly put many things in His Word in such a way that their meaning cannot be obtained by a rapid and careless reading. He has clone so in order to exercise us, and to drive us to our knees; to make us cry, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law" ( Psalm 119:18); and to pray, "That which I see not, teach thou me" ( Job 34:32).

"Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them, Do ye inquire among yourselves of that I said, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again a little while, and ye shall see me?" ( John 16:19). "It may seem strange that the desire did not at once find expression in direct inquiry; for surely they had been long enough with Him, and had known Him sufficiently well to induce the conviction that He was ‘meek and lowly in heart,' and always more ready to give, than they were to receive, instruction. The truth seems to be, that on this occasion they were both ashamed and afraid to seek the information which they were anxious to obtain—ashamed to acknowledge their ignorance on a subject on which their Master had so often addressed them; and afraid, it may be equally, that they should draw down on themselves a faithful, though kindly rebuke. What is said of a former declaration, seems to have been true of that which now perplexed them, ‘they understood not the saying, and they were afraid to ask him'; Mark 9:32" (Mr. John Brown).

"It is to be noted that the Lord did not reply directly to their intended question. He does not give them further information on the subject concerning which they were curious. The point which perplexed them was His promised speedy return. They had half made up their minds to lose Him. They had a kind of vague, undefined suspicion that their worst fears regarding Him were about to be realized: but if Song of Solomon , what could He mean by speaking of this quick return? If He must die, how can it be only for a little while?' As yet they knew not the Scriptures what the rising from the dead should mean. Their minds were confused, and their hearts filled with sorrow. So the Lord dwells upon this point of time, though He does not directly answer the desired question. He prefers now rather to give them some general prospect of brighter days to come: their sorrow shall give place to joy: that should be short, this should be lasting; that for a time only, this forever." (Mr. George Brown).

The Lord knows what things we have need of before we ask: all things are open before Him, even our hearts! He would not leave His disciples in uncertainty: "Before they call I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear" ( Isaiah 65:24). There is something very impressive in the way in which the Lord Jesus here repeats what He had said just before: evidently with the intention of fixing these words in their minds. Seven times in these four verses occurs this expression "a little while." How the Spirit would impress upon us the brevity of our earthly pilgrimage! How the Lord here emphasizes the blessed truth that we should be daily, hourly, expecting His return!

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and Lamentations , but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy" ( John 16:20). There is no change of subject here as some have strangely thought. Instead, the Lord mentions the effects of not seeing Him and seeing Him again. The double meaning of His words in John 16:16 must be borne in mind—their immediate reference to the apostles, and their wider application to all Christians. As they concerned the Eleven, Christ made it known that they would first mourn for Him as one dead, and not only would the decease of their unfailing Comforter result in deep lamentation, but the rejoicing of the world over its seeming victory and His defeat would intensify their sorrows. But after a short season their grief would be turned into rejoicing.

Strikingly was this prediction fulfilled. When Mary Magdalene came to the apostles to announce the Savior's triumph over the grave, she found them mourning and weeping ( Mark 16:10). When Christ approached the two disciples walking to Emmaus, He asked "What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another? as ye walk and are sad" ( Luke 24:17). How often during those three days must they have remembered His words "Ye shall weep and lament." And while the beloved disciples were sunk in sorrow, their enemies were rejoicing. Solemnly does this come out in the prophetic plaint of the Messiah: "Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me: neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause" ( Psalm 35:19). But these words of Christ also have a direct application to all His people on earth: "Sorrow" is their portion too—how could it be otherwise as identified with the Man of sorrows during the time of His rejection! The awful enmity of men against God; the way in which the world still treats His beloved Son; the many false prophets who dishonor the Lord; the absence of the Savior Himself; and the sight of our fellow-creatures rushing heedlessly to destruction, these are enough to make Christians "weep and lament." Add to these our own sad failures, and the failures of our brethren—often more apparent to us than our own—and we can at once perceive the force of the apostle's words, "Even we ourselves groan within ourselves waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body" ( Romans 8:23).

"But your sorrow shall be turned into joy" ( John 16:20). The woman who saw the risen Savior as they returned from the sepulcher "with fear and great joy" ( Matthew 28:8) ran to announce the glad tidings to the disciples. When He Himself appeared to them we read, "Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord" ( John 20:20). And when He ascended on high "they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy" ( Luke 24:52). But mark here the minute discrimination of our Lord's language. It was not only that their sorrow should give place to joy, but be "turned into joy." Their sorrowing became joy! The very cause of their sorrow—the death of Christ—now became the ground and subject of their joy! Grief would not only be replaced by joy, but be transmuted into joy, even as the water was turned into wine! The Cross of Christ is glorified into an eternal consolation. And what was it, or rather Who was it that brought this about? None other than the Holy Spirit. He has so interpreted for us the death of the Savior that we now cry, "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" ( Galatians 6:14). So our title for this chapter still holds good here: it is Christ glorified by the Spirit.

The final meaning of this profound and full word of Christ's, "your sorrow shall be turned into joy," will find its ultimate realization in all His people when He comes to receive us unto Himself. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. And even here the exactitude of our Lord's language is to be seen: our "sorrow" shall be "turned into joy": our present groanings are but creating within us a larger capacity for joy in the grand hereafter: "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" ( 2 Corinthians 4:17). But how fearful the contrast in the case of unbelievers: "Woe unto you that laugh now: for ye shall mourn and weep" ( Luke 6:25)!

"A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world" ( John 16:21). Plain and simple though this verse appears to be, yet we believe, there is a depth and fulness in it which has never been fully apprehended. First of all it is evident that we have a double parallelism: "a little while and ye shall not see me" ( John 16:16), "ye shall weep and Lamentations , but the world shall rejoice, and ye shall be sorrowful" ( John 16:20), "a woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come" ( John 16:21), all refer to the same thing—the same period of time, the same experience. So too "again a little while and ye shall see me" ( John 16:16), "your sorrow shall be turned into joy" ( John 16:20), and "as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world" ( John 16:21), also correspond. What we have here in verse 21repeats, but in figurative language, what Christ had said in the previous verses. The Lord now illustrates by a reference to the most familiar of all examples of joy issuing from sorrow. The force of the figure used to portray our sufferings intimates the necessity of them, their severity, their brief duration, and the fact that they are antecedent to and productive of joy. So much is clear on the surface. But in its deeper meaning the figure which the Savior here employed went beyond His literal language in the previous verse.

The symbolical domain of nature has much to teach us if we have eyes to see and hearts to receive. God has wisely and graciously ordered it that the pangs of the mother are compensated in her joy over the fruit of her anguish. And this is a symbolical prophecy, written in nature by the Creator's finger, of the birth of the new man. That, too, is preceded by travail, both on the part of the Spirit and of the one He brings forth: but here travail gives place to joy. The same process is also repeated in the Christian life. The travail-pangs of "mortification" are the precursors of resurrection-joys. There must be, for us too, the cross before the crown. There must be fellowship with the sufferings of Christ, before we share His glory ( Romans 8:17). Plain intimation of this is given in His words here: "her hour is come"—the same expression used by Him so often in conjunction with His own "travail" The Holy Spirit has also used this same figure of a travailing woman to set forth the relation in which this present life stands to the future life: see Romans 8:12 , 19 , 22 , 23.

Marvellously full is this word of Christ's. Fulfilled not only in the experience of the apostles, fulfilled in our regeneration, it is still further fulfilled in our Christian life.

"And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you" ( John 16:22). There is little need for us to enter into a lengthy exposition of this verse. In it the Lord gathers up into a brief summary all that He had said from John 16:15 onwards. There is the same fulness of reference as before. Directly, it applied, to the case of the apostles. For a short season they sorrowed over their Master's death and absence. This gave place to rejoicing at His resurrection and ascension. But the permanency of their joy—"none taketh from you"—was secured by the coming of the Spirit. But our Lord's words were also addressed to the entire body of His people, therefore, as has been said, "The way of the first disciples between the Passion and Pentecost is a type of the whole interval of the Lord's Church between His departure to the Father and His final return" (Stier).

The following questions are to aid the student on the dosing portion of John 16:—

1. In what "day," verse 23?

2. What is meant by "ask me nothing," verse 23?

3. What is the meaning of the first part of verse 24?

4. When did Christ show them "plainly," verse 25?

5. What is the meaning of verse 26?

6. Did the disciples really understand Christ now, verse 29?

7. In what sense did Christ "overcome the world," verse 33?


Verses 23-33

Christ's Concluding Consolations

John 16:23-33

The following is an Analysis of the dosing section of John 16:—

1. Asking the Father in the name of Christ, verses 23 , 24.

2. Christ's promise to show the Father plainly, verse 25.

3. The Father's love made known, verses 26 , 28.

4. The confession of the apostles, verses 29 , 30.

5. Christ's challenge of their faith, verse 31.

6. Christ's solemn prediction, verse 32.

7. Christ's comforting assurance, verse 33.

Our present section contains the dosing words of our Lord's Paschal Discourse. We trust that many readers have shared the writer's sense of wonderment as we have passed from chapter to chapter and verse to verse. A truly wondrous one was this address of Christ. It stands quite by itself, for there is nothing else like it in the four Gospels. Here the Savior is alone with His own, and most blessedly does He reveal His tender affections for them. Here He speaks no longer to those whose hopes were to be realized in Judaism. Here He anticipates what is treated of in fuller detail in the Epistles, speaking as He does of the Christian's position, portion, privileges and responsibilities. There is a fulness in His words which it is impossible for us to exhaust, a depth we can never completely fathom in this life. Every verse will richly repay the most diligent and prolonged study.

In the closing verses of John 16 the Lord Jesus proceeds to set forth even more fully the blessings and privileges which were to issue from His going to heaven, declaring, too, the Father's love for those whom He had given to the Son. First, He assures believers of the readiness of the Father to grant unto them whatsoever they asked Him in the Son's worthy name. Next, He tells them that in thus asking, their joy should be made full. Then He announces that the time would come when He should no more speak in dark sayings, but He would show plainly of the Father. This is followed by the declaration that the Father loveth them because they loved the Son. Then He reminds them again that, having come forth from the Father into the world, He would leave the world and return to the Father. After this there is a break made by the disciples affirming their faith in Him. This is met by the solemn warning that, nevertheless, they would forsake Him. Then He closes by His never-to-be-forgotten words, "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." May the Spirit of the Truth grant us His sorely needed guidance as we ponder this passage together.

"In that day ye shall ask me nothing" ( John 16:23). This short sentence has proven a sore puzzle to many of the commentators. There is wide difference of opinion, both as to what "day" is in view here, and as to what is signified by "ye shall ash me nothing." That Christ was here looking forward needs not to be argued; but how far forward is what many have not found it easy to decide. Did He mean that day, after the brief interval of separation when they should meet again, of His resurrection? Did He mean the day of pentecost, when the Spirit was to descend upon them, enduing them with power? Did He mean the whole period of Christianity, the "day of salvation?" Or, did He employ this term in the sense that it has in so many Old Testament prophecies (see Isaiah 2:11; Isaiah 5:30; Isaiah 11:10 , etc.),the day of His public manifestations? Or, did He look beyond the bounds of earth's history to the unending perfect "day", the Day of glory? Each of these meanings has been severally contended for by able expositors, and in view of the profound fulness of our Lord's words, we would hesitate to limit them to any one of these possible alternatives: probably several of them are to be combined.

"And in that day ye shall ask me nothing." This is not the first time that this expression was used by Christ. In John 14:20 we find that He said, "At [in] that day ye shall know that I am in my Father and ye in me, and I in you." But even there this expression can hardly be limited to one specific reference. If the reader will turn back to our comments on that verse he will find that we have explained it to signify: first, the day when the Holy Spirit was given to guide believers into all the truth; second, and ultimately, to the clay of glory, when we shall know even as we are known. It is thus that we understand "In that day" here in John 16:23; having both a narrower and wider meaning, a nearer and a remoter application.

"When in immediate connection with what has just been said, we find the greatest promise connected with the strikingly prominent ‘in that day' it becomes needful to mark carefully the meaning of this formula. It is obvious that it cannot mean any individual day; and we cannot avoid seeing that the time signified by it begins with the day of the resurrection, if we rightly understood the great turning point of the future, which our Lord since John 14:3 has had always before His eyes, has its commencement in the resurrection-morning after the night of suffering and death. But as certain as we have seen embraced in John 16:20-22 , a comprehensive glance at all the future of the Church, must we in this connected but heightened conclusion of all, give the words their furtherest reach of signification. The Lord, as we think at least, intends this ‘in that day' to include tint of all, the whole period of the dispensation of the Spirit, which already typically commenced in His first return and seeing them again:—and then, pre-eminently, the end of this time, the consummation of the fulness of the Spirit in His own when He shall have unfolded and imparted all that is Christ's to His people. This is plain from the greatness of the promise connected with it, which can never have its full realization till that goal is reached. ‘And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Great and unfathomable word.'" (Stier.)

But what is meant by "ye shall ask me nothing?" Strangely and deplorably has this been perverted by some. There have been a few who have argued from this verse that we are here forbidden to address Christ, directly, in prayer. But Acts 1:24; 7:59 , to say nothing of many passages in the Epistles, dearly refutes such an error.

"Ye shall ask me nothing." The first key to this is found in the particular term our Lord here employed. In the Greek another word is used in the latter part of this same verse where He says, "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you." While it is true that these two words are used, in some passages, almost interchangeably, yet that they have a distinct meaning is clear from several considerations. If the usage of each word be carefully traced through the New Testament it will be found that the former (erotao) is expressive of familiar entreaty, whereas the second (aiteo) signifies a lowly petition. Hence, whilst the Lord Jesus is found employing the former in His asking the Father on behalf of His disciples, never once does He use the latter term. Even more significant is it to find that Martha—who had not sat at His feet and learned of Him as had her more spiritual sister—used the latter word when she said, "I know that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee" ( John 11:22); failing to discern the Divine glory of His person, she supposed that He would have to appeal to God as a suppliant.

According to its classical usage, "erotao" signifies "to ask questions, to make inquiry in order to obtain information." It is employed in this sense in a number of passages: to seek no further, we find it bearing this meaning in John 16:19. "Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them, Do you inquire among yourselves?" But like the words "in that day," so "ye shall ask me nothing" seem to have a double significance here—a relative and an absolute, an immediate and remote, a primary and an ultimate.

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you" ( John 16:23). Here is the second key to the first part of this verse, so far as its primary meaning and immediate application is concerned: asking the Father everything, is contrasted from asking the Son nothing. "In that day" refers primarily to the time when, the Holy Spirit was given to them, in which "day" we are now living. But when the Holy Spirit came, Christ would be absent; then, instead of asking the Savior questions (as they did constantly while He was with them), they would petition the Father. "The Lord is really signifying the great change from recourse to Him as their Messiah on earth for every difficulty, not for questions only, but for all they might want day by day, to that access to the Father into which He would introduce them as the accepted Man and glorified Savior on high" (Mr. W. Kelly). This accounts for the "Verily, verily" with which Christ introduced this second statement: it emphasized the certainty and sufficiency of the new recourse of the disciples which He now made known unto them. And how this emphasized His "it is expedient for you that I go away" ( John 16:7)! Petitions in Christ's all-prevailing name the apostles would be permitted to present to the Father, which was something no saint before the Cross had ever been instructed to urge. As the God of Israel He had been known: but now believers were to approach Him in the conscious relationship of children addressing their Father!

But if we look forward to the ultimate fulfillment of Christ's words "in that day ye shall ask me nothing," they signify that in the Glory we shall know even as we are known, and there will no longer be any need to interrogate Him about any of the problems which now so sorely perplex us. Then we shall—to speak in the language of the context—understand the meaning of our present "sorrows" and "rejoice" forever, for the wise Love that appointed them. Having thus pointed us forward to the final goal, the Lord provides encouragement for us as we journey toward it—"Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name he will give it you." The "whatsoever" must be qualified by whatever is for the Father's glory, will promote His Son's interests, and is for our good.

"Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name" ( John 16:24). The Lord was not reproving His disciples for a failure in their prayer-life, but was announcing one of the consequences of the great change then at hand. If the reader will note carefully what we said on John 14:13 , 14 , he will see how impossible it was for saints to pray in the name of the Lord Jesus before His ascension. In the previous verses we have learned what the results of the coming of the Spirit would be saintwards, here we are shown the effects Godwards. Consequent on Christ's exaltation, the Spirit in and with believers would draw out their hearts in prayer, teaching them to present their petitions to the Father in the all-prevailing name of the Son.

"Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full" ( John 16:24). "I enjoin you thus to pray, that not only may you be delivered from all despondency and heart-trouble, but that in the enjoyment of all heavenly and spiritual blessings, and in the possession of all that is necessary and sufficient to secure the success of the great enterprise on which you are about to enter, you may be filled with holy happiness, heavenly joy—joy in the Holy Spirit. There is a close connection between the two advices given by an apostle under the influence of the Spirit of His Master: ‘Rejoice evermore: pray without ceasing' ( 1 Thessalonians 5:16 , 17). The second is the means of securing the first. If we cease to pray, we are likely to cease to rejoice—we must ‘pray without ceasing' that we may ‘rejoice evermore': and were we, instead of being anxious, careful, and troubled about many things, to ‘be anxious about nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, make our requests known unto God, with thanksgiving' ( Philippians 4:6), assuredly the ‘peace of God, would keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus'; and, amid external troubles, our joy would be full" (Mr. John Brown).

"These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh when I shall no more speak unto you in Proverbs , but I shall show you plainly of the Father" ( John 16:25). It will be noted that the margin gives "parables" as an alternative for "proverbs." In this word of Christ there Isaiah , again, a fulness of meaning which no brief definition can comprehend. In the Greek there are two words used (for the one Hebrew word "mashal")—"parabole" and "paroimia": the former is never used in John's Gospel: the latter occurs in John 10:6 and here. Possibly it had been better to render it "dark saying" in the present instance, as the Lord sets it in antithesis t rom "showing plainly of the Father." And yet the thoughts connected with "proverbs" is not to be excluded. The wisdom of Solomon is recorded in his "Proverbs." So the Lord here intimates that Hebrews , the Truth, the "greater than Song of Solomon ," would not do otherwise than speak in sentences with a fulness of meaning which no mere mental acumen can penetrate. But again, the Greek word here may properly be rendered "parables," and the distinctive idea connected with this term is probably to be included as well.

"Parables are truths given and yet concealed from those who cannot or will not receive them; but to the ready heart that can take them in, they can be made known, as we see in Matthew 13:13-16. The parables there were not understood by His enemies and would not have been by the disciples, but He opened them. A parable is not a story to illustrate a truth; it is the truth itself. As though He would say, ‘It will not be received, but I will speak it nevertheless.' It is like a nut, needing to be cracked open, but the kernel is there; and rich too. Now He had spoken to them in that way. Many of the incidents that occur have truth in them that would be open only to the ear and eye of the new Prayer of Manasseh , enligntened and exercised by the Holy Spirit.

"He had said these things, whether they understood them or not; but the hour was coming when He would no more speak unto them in parables, but would show them plainly of the Father. That is now by the Holy Spirit. ‘There is no book in me Scripture that is more full of teaching that requires fellowship with the subject, and the mind of the writer—the Sprat—than the Gospel of John. Wherein we fail, it is that we are so little in fellowship with Him. The deeper the fellowship, the more thoroughly we would understand all that has been told. That Isaiah , men, me reason for speaking in parables, but not doing it when the Holy Spirit comes (there are no parables in the Epistles, and note 2Corinthians : A.W.P.). The Holy Spirit's business is to take of the things of Christ and tell them out and make them actually ours." (Mr. Malachi Taylor).

The Lord went on to say that the time (hour) was at hand when He would speak no more obscurely to the disciples, but would plainly "show them of the Father." This promise began to be accomplished even before Pentecost. On the very day of His resurrection, "beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded" to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, "the things concerning himself" ( Luke 24:27). To Mary Magdalene He made known that His Father was His brethren's Father ( John 20:17). So in Luke 24:45 we are also told, "Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures." But the complete fulfillment was given in the coming of the Spirit to guide them into all the Truth: then the veil was completely taken off their hearts, and with open face they contemplated the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. In John 16:14 the Lord had said the Spirit would "show," here He says "I will show"; there He had spoken of the Spirit showing the things "of mine," here "I will show of the Father." This interchange strikingly attests the unity of the three Persons in the Godhead.

"At that day ye shall ask in my name" ( John 16:26). In the day of the Spirit believers would ask the Father in the name of Christ, not only plead His name as a motive, but come to God in the value of His person. What an incentive is this for each Christian reader to engage in this holy exercise! "The benefit of prayer is so great that it cannot be expressed. Prayer is the dove which, when sent out, returns again, bringing with it the olive-leaf, namely, peace of heart. Prayer is the golden chain which God holds fast, and lets not go until He blesses. Prayer is the Moses' rod which brings forth the water of consolation out of the Rock of Salvation. Prayer is Samson's jawbone, which smites down our enemies. Prayer is David's harp, before which the evil spirit flies. Prayer is the key to heaven's treasures" (John Gerhard.)

"And I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you." The first design of Christ in these words was to repel a false notion which many have entertained, namely that the Father must be besought by Christ before He will notice us. It is not that Christ here denies that He would intercede for us, but He would assure us that such intercession on His part is not needed to induce the Father to love us—the next verse makes it very clear. It was Christ assuring His disciples that, following His exaltation ("in that day"), the way would be open for them to come into the Father's presence. "I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you." "This no more denies Christ's intercession for us, than John 16:23 forbids the servant praying to his Lord about His work or His house. It is not an absolute statement, but it is simply an ellipse, which the words following explain." (Mr. W. Kelly.)

"For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God." ( John 16:27). This at once indicates the line of thought in the Savior's mind at the close of the previous verse. It was not that He had to coerce the Father either to hear our prayers or to love us. The favors which we receive from the Father are not extorted from Him by the importunate pleading of the Savior. So far from the Father having no regard for our happiness He loves us, loves us with a special love of approbation because we love His Son: therefore is He ever ready to minister to our welfare, watching over us with paternal affection and care. The Father does not love us because Christ intercedes for us; but Christ intercedes for us because we are the objects of the Father's special love. What a blessed word is this! Spoken for our assurance and comfort as we journey homewards. Whatsoever they ask in Christ's name shall be given them, is secured by the love of the Father, no less than by the intercession of Christ; nay, even more Song of Solomon , inasmuch as the only fountain is more than the only channel, though both are equally necessary in their own places." (Mr. John Brown.)

"For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God." It is to be noted that "love" is here placed before "believing." One reason for this was because Christ had just been speaking of love in the previous verse; now He proceeds to speak of faith so as to prepare the way for that profession of faith which the disciples at once made. But no doubt the word "believe" here is used as in John 14:1. It was not the initial act of faith in the Lord Jesus, but the confiding in and on Him after His return to the Father.

"I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world; again, I leave the world, and go to the Father." ( John 16:28). "Having been led to mention His coming forth from God, our Lord concludes His explicatory remarks by stating in the fewest words the truths which, above all others, it was of importance that the disciples should hold fast in the hour of temptation, which was just coming on them to try them." (Mr. John Brown.) These are the vital facts for faith to lay hold of. First, Christ came forth from the Father. He is the heavenly One come down to earth; not only "sent" officially, but "come" by voluntary consent. Second, He came into the world; and why? That He might be the Savior of sinners. Third, He has gone back to the Father. How? Through death and resurrection. With what intent? To diffuse from on high the benefits of His redeeming work. Christ's design here was to show the apostles how fully warranted was their confidence in Himself.

"His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb. Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou earnest forth from God." ( John 16:29 , 30). This confession of the apostles looks back to what Christ had just said in John 16:27 , 28. The assurance that the Father Himself loved them had comforted their hearts: the declaration from their Master's own lips that they "loved and believed" in Him gave them new confidence. As Calvin beautifully puts it: "The disciples did not fully understand the meaning of Christ's discourse; but though they were not capable of this, the mere odor of it refreshed them." All was no longer dark to them; their faith was confirmed. When they declared, "now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb" (obscure saying), they were looking back to what He had said in John 16:25. It seems clear that the apostles imagined the "day" the Lord mentioned had already arrived, and that their Master was now making good His promise to them. This is the more evident from their statement, "Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask. thee," which looks back to John 16:23: "And in that day ye shall ask me nothing."

"Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou earnest forth from God." The disciples perceived that the Lord had accurately discerned their thoughts, and, unasked, had solved their difficulties. Yet it is dear that they failed to take in the fulness of what He had just said. They believed that He had come forth from "God" ( John 16:27). So far, so good. But He had spoken of coming forth from "the Father" and of returning to Him ( John 16:28). Upon this they were silent, and for a very good reason: at that time they neither believed nor understood that deeper point of view. The "Father" is God truly. But God speaks of the one Divine Being who is over all Creator, Governor, Sustainer, Judge. Father speaks of relationship, the relationship of God to His children. Of this the disciples, as yet, understood little, perhaps nothing.

"We believe that thou camest forth from God." Really this went no further than a confession that He was the promised Messiah. Nicodemus said, "Rabbi, we know thou art a teacher come from God" ( John 3:2). The woman of Samaria exclaimed, "Come see a man who told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" ( John 4:29). Those who witnessed the miracle of the loaves avowed, "This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world" ( John 6:14). Peter testified, "We believe, and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God"—not "Father"! ( John 6:69). Martha said, "Yea, Lord, I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world." ( John 11:27). The word of the apostles here in John 16:30 went no farther than these other confessions. "We believe that thou camest forth from God." In truth they had apprehended nothing that raised them above the effect of Christ's rejection; only the realization that He came forth from the Father and was returning to Him, could give this.

"They had no conception of the mighty change from all that they had gathered of the Kingdom as revealed in the Old Testament, to the new state of things that would follow His absence with the Father on high and the presence of the Holy Spirit here below. It sounded plain to their ears; but even up to the ascension they feebly, if at all, caught a glimpse of it. They to the last clung to the hopes of Israel, and these surely remain to be fulfilled another day. But they understood not this ‘Day,' during which, if the Jews are treated as reprobate, even as He was rejected of them, those born of God should in virtue of Christ and His work be placed in immediate relationship with the Father. His return to the Father was a parable still, though the Lord does not correct their error, as indeed it was useless: they would soon enough learn how little they knew. But at least even then, they had the inward consciousness that He knew all, and, as He penetrated their thoughts had no need that any should ask Him. ‘Herein we believe that thou camest out from God.' Undoubtedly—yet how far below the truth He had uttered (in John 16:28), is that which they were thus confessing! The Spirit of His Son sent into their hearts would give them in due time to know the Father; as redemption accomplished and accepted could alone provide the needful ground for this" (The Bible Treasury). No wonder the Lord had just previously announced to the apostles: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now"!

"Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe?" ( John 16:31). It seems to us that the Lord was here challenging their faith. In a real sense they did believe that He was the promised Messiah—"come out from God." But their faith was on the eve of being severely tested, and under that testing it would be shaken to its very foundations; though fail it would not. He with His own omniscient foresight, knew what lay ahead of them. The indignity, the sufferings, the crucifixion of their Master would indeed cause them to be "offended." Their faith was genuine; but it was not strong as they supposed. This explains, we think, the "now"—"Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe?"; ye believe Me while I am with you and things are going according to your minds, but what will you do when I shall be taken from you, delivered into the hands of the Gentiles, die, and be buried! The Lord then was warning them against their self-confidence.

"We need not doubt that the profession of the Eleven was real and sincere. They honestly meant what they said. But they did not know themselves. They did not know what they were capable of doing under the pressure of the fear of men and strong temptation. They had not rightly estimated the weakness of the flesh, the power of the Devil, the feebleness of their own resolutions, the shallowness of their own faith. All this they had yet to learn by painful experience. Like young recruits, they had yet to learn that it is one thing to know the soldier's drill and wear the uniform, and quite another to be steadfast in the day of battle. Let us mark these things and learn wisdom. The true secret of spiritual strength is self-distrust and deep humility. ‘When I am weak, then am I strong' ( 2 Corinthians 12:10). None of us, perhaps, have the least idea how much we might fall if placed suddenly under the influence of strong temptation. Happy is he who never forgets the words, ‘Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall,' and, remembering our Lord's disciples, pray daily, ‘Hold thou me up and then I shall be safe.'" (Bishop Ryle).

"Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone" ( John 16:32). This was spoken For the disciples' sakes, that His prediction of the heavy hour of pressure might prepare them for it. It was said to humble them, to destroy their present self-confidence. Note the opening, "Behold" to arrest their attention! "Ye shall be scattered!" Without the Shepherd, they would be dispersed abroad. "Every man to his own"—his own shelter or hiding-place. Each of them would provide for his own safety. When the storm burst there was shelter for all but Christ. He performed His Work of Atonement alone, because He alone was qualified to do it.

"And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me" ( John 16:32). How gracious of the Savior to address this word for the comfort of their hearts! Moreover, the consciousness of the Father's presence was the stay of His own heart. This is clear from Isaiah 50:7 , "For the Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded; therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed." "Let us here, in transition to the following verse mark how all this is a type for the entire future of the Church. Often is this scattering of the disciples from His presence repeated, in various degrees and with various manifestations, but He is not alone. And even if in this day all men were to leave Him, He abides what He Isaiah , and the Father is with Him. His holy cause can never be forsaken or lost" (Stier). Similarly Calvin remarks: "Whosoever well ponders this will hold firm his faith though the world shake, nor will the defection of all others overturn his confidence; we do not render God full honor unless He alone is felt to be sufficient to us."

"These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace" ( John 16:33). Having made a final reference to the awful "hour" then at hand, the Lord winds up His matchless discourse with a parting word of encouragement and victory. He here condenses into a single sentence the instruction which He had given them in the upper room. The "peace" of His own was what His tender heart was concerned about. "Ever thinking more of others than of Himself, even in this near prospect of the bitter Cross, He forgets His own grief in the grief of His disciples. He is occupied in comforting those who ought to have been His comforters" (Mr. G. Brown). The "peace" of which He spake can be enjoyed only by communion with Himself. In the previous verse He had mentioned their forsaking Him; but He had not forsaken them. Three days later He would return with His "peace be unto you" ( John 20:19), then did they learn, once for all, that in Him alone was peace to be found. But He does not hide from them the fact that "in the world" they should have "tribulation,'' but He first assures them that, notwithstanding this, there was peace for them in Him.

"In the world ye shall have tribulation" ( John 16:33). This is not to be restricted to the violent enmity of the ungodly. It is a general term for distress of any kind. The Latin word from which our "tribulation" is taken, was used of the flail which separated the wheat from the chaff. There are temptations, trials, troubles in the world as well as from it. "In the world" is to be in the place of testing. While the Christian is left down here he suffers from the weakness and weariness of the body, from temporal losses and disappointments, from the severing of cherished ties, as well as from the sneers and taunts, the hatred and persecution of the world. But though "in the world" is tribulation, "in Christ" there is "peace." The world cannot rob us of that, nor can its evil "prince" destroy it. But let us never forget that this "peace" is only enjoyed by faith. It is only as we abide in conscious communion with the Savior that we can anticipate the unclouded and unending joys of the future. The peace which is for us in Christ is appropriated just so far as faith lays hold of our perfect acceptance, our eternal security, and our wondrous portion in Him.

"But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" ( John 16:33). The influence and power of "the world" is powerful, but not all-powerful. It has been fought and overcome. One greater than it, mightier than its "prince," has been here, and vanquished it. The world did its utmost in the battle, but the Son of God prevailed. Noah condemned the world ( Hebrews 11:7), but Christ conquered it. It has no longer any power left but what He permits. It was in the way of temptation, suffering and obedience that He fought and won. Therefore let us "Be of good cheer." The world is a conquered world; it has been conquered for us by Christ. Then let us take courage. The storms of trial and persecution may sometimes beat fiercely upon us; but let them only drive us closer to Christ.

"But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." What a glorious close for this Discourse! The foundation of peace is our Savior's personal victory, here anticipated by Him before the conflict! How this should stimulate us. The world is still essentially the same; but so is Christ! And our Lord is still saying, "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." There must be no surrender, no compromise, no fellowship with the world. Here is our Lord's war-cry: him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne" ( Revelation 3:21). Ere long the conflict will cease by the victory gained, for "Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" ( 1 John 5:4). The day is nigh at hand when Christ shall come to reward His servants. Then shall the victor be crowned. "And oh, the delight of casting these crowns at His feet, and ascribing forever and ever, glory, and honor, and dominion and blessing to the Great Overcomer, to Him who conquered for us, who conquered in us, who made us more than conquerors! It is sweet to anticipate this glorious result of all our tribulations and struggles; and in the enjoyment of peace in Him amidst these struggles and tribulations, to raise, though in broken accents, and with a tremulous voice, the song which, like the sound of great waters, shall unceasingly, everlastingly, echo through heaven, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain'" (Mr. John Brown).

Let the student work on the following questions as preparation for our next lesson:—

1. What does the "lifting up of His eyes" teach us, verse 1?

2. What did Christ refer to in "glorify thy Song of Solomon ," verse 1?

3. How is verse 2related to Christ's petition?

4. Does verse 3give a definition of "eternal life" or—?

5. Why did Christ refer to the Father as "the only true God," verse 3?

6. What was Christ's "glory" before the world, verse 5?

7. By how many different pleas (in verses 1 , 4) does Christ support His petition in verse 5?

 


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Bibliography Information
Pink, A.W. "Commentary on John 16:4". "A.W. Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/awp/john-16.html.

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